The Art of Community

Seven Principles for Belonging

Charles Vogl (Author)

Publication date: 08/22/2016

The Art of Community
Create a Culture of Belonging!

Strong cultures help people support one another, share their passions, and achieve big goals. And such cultures of belonging aren't just happy accidents - they can be purposefully cultivated, whether they're in a company, a faith institution or among friends and enthusiasts. Drawing on 3,000 years of history and his personal experience, Charles Vogl lays out seven time-tested principles for growing enduring, effective and connected communities. He provides hands-on tools for creatively adapting these principles to any group—formal or informal, mission driven or social, physical or virtual. This book is a guide for leaders seeking to build a vibrant, living culture that will enrich lives.

Winner of the Nautilus Silver Book Award in the Business and Leadership Category.

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Create a Culture of Belonging!

Strong cultures help people support one another, share their passions, and achieve big goals. And such cultures of belonging aren't just happy accidents - they can be purposefully cultivated, whether they're in a company, a faith institution or among friends and enthusiasts. Drawing on 3,000 years of history and his personal experience, Charles Vogl lays out seven time-tested principles for growing enduring, effective and connected communities. He provides hands-on tools for creatively adapting these principles to any group—formal or informal, mission driven or social, physical or virtual. This book is a guide for leaders seeking to build a vibrant, living culture that will enrich lives.

Winner of the Nautilus Silver Book Award in the Business and Leadership Category.

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Meet the Author

Visit Author Page - Charles Vogl

Charles Vogl is an executive consultant and author. He works with leaders in tech, finance, media, government and social change organizations to make them more effective in creating meaningful change. His work includes helping leaders strengthen critical relationships and inspire communities to action.

He lectures, leads workshops with groups and works individually with select leaders. He draws from the realm of spiritual traditions to understand how individuals build loyalty, strengthen identification with a community, and motivate actions consistent with values. These principles apply to both secular and spiritual leadership.

His work includes teaching leaders how to quickly connect with others in authentic ways. When we communicate in powerful ways, we can generate inspiration, excitement, and commitment in others.

Charles' experiences include international human rights advocacy, social change leadership and internationally awarded nonfiction media.  He studied ethics, spiritual traditions, philosophy and business management at Yale University.

He is a returning guest lecturer at the Yale School of Management and Yale Leadership Institute. At the Yale Law School, he co-founded the Visual Law Project. 

He authored The Art of Community: 7 Principles for Belonging (2016 Berrett-Koehler). The book distills and secularizes 7 principles taken from 3,000 years of spiritual tradition so that leaders can use them whereever they are.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Inspiration for This Book
Part One: Recognizing Community
1. Understanding Community
Part Two: Seven Principles for Belonging
2. The Boundary Principle
3. The Initiation Principle
4. The Rituals Principle
5. The Temple Principle
6. The Stories Principle
7. The Symbols Principle
8. The Inner Rings Principle
Part Three: Advanced Ideas
9. Distinguishing Religion and Avoiding Cult
10. Managing Community Face-to-Face and Online
Epilogue: Endings and Beginnings
Beginning with Acknowledgment
Last Thought
Appendix A: Leader Worksheets
Appendix B: Dinner Community Case Study
About the Author

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The Art of Community


Understanding Community

In this book, I define a community as a group of individuals who share a mutual concern for one another’s welfare. It’s distinct from a group whose members may share ideas, interests, proximity, or any number of things but lack concern for one another. Such groups can have huge memberships, like the Museum of Modern Art, the American Medical Association, or Greenpeace, but their members do not share any strong social connectedness. Robert Putnam, a political scientist at Harvard, says it best: “They root for the same team and they share some of the same interests, but they are unaware of each other’s existence. Their ties, in short, are to common symbols, common leaders, and perhaps common ideals, but not to one another.”1

When we see that others are concerned about our own welfare, we’ll invest more in building community with them, and we’ll feel more connected. We have communities in our lives that don’t have formal membership but to which we feel connected because of this perceived mutual concern: the neighbors on your street or in your apartment building, your pickup sports friends, or even the people you know from your commute. Though informal, these are real and important communities.

Recognizing a Community

There are certain features that are almost universal in healthy communities. While communities have different levels of maturation and sophistication, these features will quickly emerge as communities mature and gain importance. Your success in growing a community will depend on how well you can understand and articulate the following features:

Shared values

Membership identity

Moral proscriptions

Insider understanding

Values Bind a Community

We all want to be part of a group of people who share our values. It doesn’t matter if we dress, behave, work, or consume similarly, or even whether we live in the same area. We want to believe that others value what we value (and disdain what we disdain). Shared values are what attract us to a group in the first place. By understanding how a group develops and expresses values, a leader can help a community mature and grow.

We may seek out a community because of a shared activity or interest (people sharing interests often share behaviors). Shared activity indicates sharing some value for the activity. But we’ll feel disconnected from such a community if we discover that there aren’t enough shared values. For example, consider CrossFit Oakland (CFO). It’s a fitness training facility and an affiliate of the global CrossFit fitness network known for a particular style of high-intensity workouts. The CrossFit company that created the network was founded in Northern California in 2000 by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai.2 There are now over thirteen thousand affiliate gyms and more than two million exercisers in the network around the world.3 The gyms are famous for their strong cultural identity, which includes creating supportive communities that help women get strong alongside men.4

CFO is a local gym founded by Mike Minium. He knows that members may join because the gym offers high-intensity and varied training, but they stay because they feel connected and welcome. The community values health, safety, and respect for personal growth far more than strength, speed, and competitiveness. Members show it in their words and instruction and in their acceptance of people at all levels of physical ability. If you look at CFO’s website, you’ll find this language (edited):

We believe in working hard so you can play outside, play inside, play with your kids, play with your friends, play on vacation, and play your way through life.

We do what we do because we believe it works to get you fitter, stronger, and healthier.

We believe it empowers you to perform better in the gym, in sport, and in life.

We do what we do so that more of you can live longer, healthier, happier, more amazing lives.

We serve you if you want to get in shape and don’t know where to begin.

We serve you if you are looking to get better (faster, stronger, fitter) at your sport.

We serve you if you are looking for real, tangible, and lasting changes in your overall health and appearance.

We serve you if you are seeking quality coaching and a supportive community.

It may surprise you that there’s belief and service language on a website for a fitness center. I discuss this later. For now, you can see how their public language clearly shares that they value faster, stronger, and healthier members. They also value community, health, and those who “don’t know where to begin” (novices). I know from conversations with Mike and from personal visits to CFO gyms that there are also unstated values in the community around honoring the effort of those with the most physical challenges. These include safety, patience, and long-term health rather than near-term performance. Anyone who can afford the fees at CFO can join. But only those who embrace the stated and unstated values will connect and feel genuinely welcome. CFO is a community because the members don’t just train together, they care for one another. And members will stay only as long as they continue to feel CFO’s commitment to those values.

Virtually all communities express their values either consciously or unconsciously, and often in both ways. They do it with actions and with words. Visitors can learn about these values in explicit ways on a website, in marketing materials, and from formal inquiry. But implicit ways are at least as powerful. They include what members say to one another, whom they welcome, what they share, and with whom and where they spend their money. No matter what the explicit values are, the implicit values will reveal the real deal.

My favorite way is to see where they put their “warm body.” I look for what community members value so much that they actually put their bodies near it. With CFO, for example, leaders and members spend significant time in the gym, greet new visitors in person, and help new or low-performing athletes with their exercises rather than spending their time only with high performers. Where members put their warm bodies tells a visitor whether they mean what they say. You may know groups that say they value generosity, contribution, and cooperation, but you have seen that they’re actually selfish. Most people quickly figure out the truth.

When I was a documentary filmmaker in New York City, I felt closely connected to an informal community of social justice filmmakers. There was no official membership card or secret handshake. Most of us belonged to several film organizations, but membership in them was not required to be part of our community. Even though there was no formal membership, I felt connected because I knew that other filmmakers cared about my success and well-being, just as I cared about theirs. We shared equipment, crew, legal knowledge, our own labor, and many hard-won lessons. When the film-making partner of one of our members was kidnapped in Nigeria, we raised money to pay for his safe return and provided much-needed emotional support.

I was attracted to that community because we valued telling important stories that would bring a measure of justice and healing to the world. We valued spending our time and money to tell stories that might never provide a positive return on the financial investments we made. We all valued making a difference in the world far more than our own comfort. To this day, I am proud to be a social change documentary filmmaker. Understanding the shared values that attract and keep members in a community is important for leaders. For continued success, leaders must both clearly share and personally represent the values so others can recognize what they want to join.

A community’s values evolve as times and people change. Your community almost certainly values something more than outsiders do. It’s not important that on the first day you can recognize and name the ultimate values for your community. In fact, it may take some time to understand what things you value more than others. Moreover, as time passes and culture changes, it’s imperative that the community values also change. This is how you stay relevant in a dynamic world. For example, it was not long ago that many American communities (like churches) valued racial segregation. While this is still a value in some places, a lot has changed since the 1950s.

Formalization can destroy a community if values are ignored. When efforts arise to formalize or corporatize a community, there’s often understandable concern that the effort could destroy the very community it seeks to grow. This is why it’s so important to recognize both the explicit and the implicit values that attract and keep members connected. Remember how CFO explicitly values higher performance and a supportive community, and how it implicitly values patience and the efforts of low-performing athletes. Any effort to grow will fail if members sense that the community leadership is neglecting important values or introducing unwelcome ones. For-profit corporations are particularly at risk for this if they value members for their revenue potential rather than for their contribution and commitment. Leaving any meaningful portion of core members feeling disconnected or abandoned is a real danger when formalizing or corporatizing a community and can lead to its destruction.

My friend Margaret has been working for years at a well-known ski resort I’ll call Ski Valley. She told me what happened when a major corporate resort operator took over. The new owners celebrated the “soul” of the resort in their marketing, but their actions eroded the connections, camaraderie, and commitment the employees felt at work. She described how she and her co-workers used to look out for one another. She valued the connection between work lives and social lives, the freedom to improve the operations, and the friendliness of a workplace built for happiness.

That all changed when the corporate leadership came. The Welcome sign at the lodge entrance was replaced with three new signs: No Dogs, No Alcohol, and No Drones. Instead of each department celebrating its holiday parties as it chose, all were invited to a combined fifteen-hundred-person event with no intimacy. Now, instead of being able to knock on a manager’s door or chat in the locker room to discuss operational improvements, staff receive instructions come from someone miles away. Not only does Margaret miss the opportunity to discuss improvements, she doesn’t even know the name of the decision maker. The values that she appreciated about the community aren’t there anymore. Margaret said that employees who were fundamentally “do gooders” have left. Instead of coming to work excited to improve guest experiences, many others just “show up.” I suspect that whatever standards the executives wanted to bring in, they didn’t plan to destroy a culture of vigilant improvement and mutual support.

Communities can have unhealthy implicit values (without knowing it). Unhealthy values are those that aren’t serving members and may even restrict connection and enrichment. You’ve probably seen this in a community somewhere. I briefly worked at an elite educational institution where there was an implicit value of demonstrating “effortless brilliance.” Some seemed to love this and showed off their mastery by dazzling others. But many students felt oppressed, fearful, and trapped by this value. They weren’t confident that they had brilliance to share. Often, they wouldn’t say anything aloud for fear that someone else would cut them down and thus demonstrate a greater effortless brilliance.

You can imagine how little social connection and enrichment was fostered when students feared speaking. The problem was so severe that several students I knew created their own secret communities to be safe from the inevitable criticism and judgment of their peers. In particular, spiritual and religious communities often run into this challenge of unwelcoming implicit values. They may advocate an explicit value of welcoming strangers, but their language (and whom they stand next to) shows that they value their own homogeneity, familiarity, and conformity. It’s largely the disagreement over values and apparent hypocrisy that angers outsiders and prevents visitors from joining for connection.

Values and Membership Identity

Because members share values, the community helps answer three important questions for members in some way:

Who am I?

How should I act?

What do I believe?

I call this membership identity. The identity may not apply to all areas of a person’s life. In fact, to an outsider it may appear that the values and identities are inconsistent with other areas in the person’s life. For example, someone can be generous and kind in one community (church, poker group, or alumni association) and a selfish bully everywhere else. You’ve probably seen this kind of compartmentalized identity.

What’s important to understand is that when a member is in the community, the community’s values and identity feel comfortable and right. Further, when members are around other members, those values and their identity are reinforced. Obviously, the particular values and identities that are reinforced will have profoundly different influences in different people’s lives. Some values and identities are deeply helpful and others equally hurtful. As a shorthand here, I’ll define healthy values as those that encourage members to care for and enrich themselves and others. The more broadly that care is defined, the better.

Stop here for a moment, and think: how would you describe your community’s membership identity? If your response is that your community doesn’t tell members who they are, what they should do, or what they should believe about anything at any level, then there are two possibilities. First, you’re not really creating a community, but only a group. A group may share interests and values, but a community has connections so that members care for the welfare of one another. Second, you’re simply not recognizing the membership identity. Consider why someone would seek you out and what that person hopes to gain as a member. Consider what that person expects of members and leadership, both formal and informal.

For example, if you have a weekend bicycling community, are there ideals that your members hold about bicycling? Perhaps they enjoy biking because it’s good for their health, or because it’s for the brave and adventurous, or because it’s an environmentally friendly outdoor activity. These provide an outline for your community’s identity. Does your community have ideas about how good bicyclists act? (This is usually identified by contrasting with how bad bicyclists act.) Do you have ideas about your identity as bicyclists? Do you welcome anyone with a bicycle? At any age or skill level? Will someone preparing for the Tour de France fit in with this community? How about a ten-year-old with a mountain bike? You might answer that anyone who enjoys bicycling is welcome, that you have special events for beginners, others for racers, and others for off-roaders. But would a bicycling police officer recording your group for terrorist surveillance fit in equally well?

The point of these questions is to help you recognize that there may be identities present in your community that are unrecognized and unstated. It’s important for you to consider them carefully, because there’s a twofold danger to not recognizing them. Below are examples shared with me from people I know within supportive communities they cherish.

Melissa recently retired as the first female firefighter captain in the history of New Haven, Connecticut. In her career she ran the busiest firehouse in the city and oversaw two teams. Over the years she has pulled people out of wrecked cars, responded to shootings, and of course put out fires. She told me that she absolutely has a community of firefighters that she knows will respond to her no matter the hour, weather, or emergency. They know that she’ll do the same for them. Here’s how she describes the identity of her personal community of firefighters:

Melissa’s Firefighter Community

Being hypervigilant about saving lives, including a willingness to take high risks.

Embracing life in the present.

Training for years for the single worst day of someone’s life.

Deep understanding about a place and circumstances to be ready for emergencies (“pre-fire planning”).


Who I am: I’m the fixer on the worst days. I’m the assurance in terrible circumstances.

How I should act: I show up no matter how bad or uncontrollable the situation. I exude confidence and control no matter what surprises show up.

What I believe: I believe life is fragile. I believe our lives can change in a moment, and I believe risking my life is worth saving someone else.

Adam is an executive chef in the San Francisco Bay Area who runs professional kitchens and consults for restaurant owners. He’s also building a national food company. He has a community of executive chefs who support one another with big events and logistical challenges, and celebrate together with lots of food. Here’s how he describes the identity of his community of chefs:

Adam’s Executive Chef Community

Working long hours to create excellent food.

Creating new food experiences.

Respecting people who make extraordinary food.


Who I am: I am an authority on culinary methods and responsible for making thousands of meals excellent every time.

How I should act: I learn about new food research, flavors, and ingredients. I find better ways to solve cooking problems, improve food, and support other chefs when they need help.

What I believe: Feeding people is important and worth long hours to do well. Food is exciting and makes the lives of others better.

Sara is a film director and producer. For over ten years she’s worked in both New York and San Francisco on projects that air on network television and national PBS, and tour the world in film festivals. She’s a part of a documentary film community that shares equipment, shares labor on projects, and helps one another navigate the changing media funding and legal landscape. Here’s how she describes the identity of her filmmaking community:

Sara’s Filmmaker Community

Understanding someone else’s viewpoint.

Dispelling stereotypes and prejudices.

Sharing the truth no matter how uncomfortable.

Creating empathy for people and ideas that are unknown or misunderstood.


Who I am: I’m a storyteller who hopes to share true nuance about people and create empathy.

How I should act: I seek out people whose stories are unknown or misrepresented and share them to contribute to understanding the world.

What I believe: I believe everyone has a voice and not everyone has the tools to project their voice. I believe it is my responsibility to get more voices heard. I believe that sharing the truth in powerful, visual ways can make a difference in people’s lives.

To grow a tight community, it’s essential to articulate the community’s core values clearly, at least for yourself. Not every value needs to be articulated, just the most important ones: those that tie the community’s members together. There are values that someone must share to be a functioning community member. Can you be a functioning part of a supportive chef community if you don’t value cooking? What if you don’t value quality?

When we can speak of the core values, then we have principles that can be used to evaluate options for the community. We can ask: “Will this decision help us build on our core values?” It’s possible that something grows without the values named, but then it becomes difficult to know if new ideas and options will grow in a way that serves and strengthens.

For example, Kevin’s online gaming community has grown far larger than he ever expected. He had thought that there might be hundreds who would want to join, but its membership is now in the tens of millions. He wonders how leadership can invest in strengthening the community without destroying what makes it great in its current form. I don’t know what’s best; I’m not part of this community. But I do know that the community will appreciate investments that support its core values.

There are many things the community can or does value, including these:


Improving gaming skills

Learning about new technology

Influencing game development

Proving who’s the best


Connecting with other gamers

Creating local and online friendships


Finding inexpensive entertainment


Improving perceptions of online gamers

Gaining legitimacy in the worldwide sports community

The first thing Kevin needs to do is to talk with the community. By doing so, he’ll learn more about what values matter to the members. This particular community is old enough and large enough that there are now subcommunities, and they may have slightly different values.

I hope you can see why Kevin should start by fully understanding and articulating the core values he intends to strengthen. If he simply dives in, for example, by starting a program to help gamers improve their skills, this could be a wasted investment, or even a disaster, if the community’s real core value is connecting gamers with one another. Conversely, if he invests in social features to improve connection, but members are there to acquire better skills from experts, the new features could feel silly, distracting, and foreign.

If you don’t know the values, you may not know who’s seeking you. You may even seek out people with the wrong values and beliefs. This is no good if you intend to strengthen your existing community with more members who share the current values. I remember speaking to a martial arts school entrepreneur who explained to me that martial arts schools often fail because instructors assume members value fighting, self-defense, and discipline. But the reality is that many martial arts students simply value a fun way to stay fit. They’re casual athletes, not fighters.

You may expect and ask members to do things that disregard their values. This is one way that efforts to formalize a community can destroy it. If members understand that these efforts fit with their values and identities, they’ll be enthusiastic about incorporating the new structures. But if not, you risk alienating your core members. I know a training director who rushed volunteer leadership trainers to compress hours of material into minutes. He valued lots of material presented quickly. The trainers and students valued interactive learning far more. Within days, all the trainers and participants abandoned the curriculum.

Behavior often precedes adopting common values. The importance of understanding that core values are different from common values becomes clear when we understand their relationship to behavior. Visitors should be aware of core values before they explore membership, but they don’t have to embrace all the common values of the group.

For a rapidly expanding community, it’s critical that prospective members are welcome to participate in community behavior before adopting common values. Visitors can have general interest or prefer to experience something before commitment. This is an idea that many religious and spiritual communities misunderstand. Few want to join a community where they must adopt an overwhelming number of life-changing values before they can participate at any level. Can you imagine visiting a bicycling club if the first thing you had to do was profess five required lifestyle-changing values about bicycling? (Bicycling can change values about eating, stretching, getting outdoors, etc.) Another way to say the same thing is that for members, while there may be early interest, behavior often comes first, and adopting values can come later with experience.

While some values are core and required, other values are simply common among members. After participation, if prospective members reject core values, they’ll leave the community on their own. (In fact, if the core values are made clear enough at the outset, the prospective member may decline to participate.) It’s important that new members be given time and flexibility in adopting values. When I lived in New Haven, Connecticut, I started a contemplative prayer group. When I founded the group, I thought that it wouldn’t matter whether members had specific ideas about God’s nature, kept a particular relationship with God, or even were confident about the existence of God. I wanted to include anyone with an interest in our discussions and contemplative prayer.

We had one participant who really enjoyed being part of the prayer group, but it soon became clear that he was more interested in philosophy than in theology. His own dismissal of God’s existence left no room to develop conversations about understanding God at any level. I had to determine what our group’s core values were: What would allow us to create a safe space for the members we sought out? It was important that members valued contemplative prayer, broadly defined, and thought it could enrich their lives. It was also important that members valued sharing and listening to each other’s thoughts about their experience of God.

It was difficult for me to contemplate restricting membership. But when I considered what kind of community I wanted to create, I had to acknowledge that a core value was respecting and honoring others as they shared their thoughts about God. It wasn’t important that someone share my particular beliefs about God. If I had communicated that core value up front, my friend would have realized early on that this was not a community for him. Or he could have participated, learned how our core value led to theological conversations (behavior), and then chosen whether to join, based perhaps on his value changing. Maybe seeing us seek out contemplative prayer would grow new interest in him. Maybe.

I was missing two things. The first was clarity on what were critical core values for the group, and the second was differing rings, one for outsiders to visit and one for insiders to share a protected space. For example, after firefighter recruits live and work in a firehouse for a year, they learn to appreciate (value) with deep respect both the trust and commitment of their crewmates. They also learn to support crewmates outside work with life’s challenges. These values make people better firefighters. Fine dining cooks usually spend a year in a high-performing kitchen before they value taking time to make food right and maximizing ingredient use. Orchestra musicians value the role of music in their lives. Once members play in an orchestra, they learn to value breathing together in preparation. They learn to value creating a magnificent sound texture rather than standing out as an exceptional musician.

The critical lesson here is that prospective members must have a way to behave like the current community members (participate) before we require them to believe in and value the same things we do (no matter how trivial or significant). When we understand this, we can find a way to both respect our community values and acknowledge that newcomers may need time to grow into full membership.

Communities and Moral Proscriptions

A community provides moral proscriptions on how members should behave and treat others. The community may not provide proscriptions for all areas of morality, but it will for those areas that relate to the community’s core values. The morals may be unidentified, seldom discussed, or unacknowledged, but you’ll see them clearly if you ask these questions:

What and whom do we protect?

What is intolerable?

What do we share?

With whom do we share?

Whom do we respect?

How do we show respect?

When you think of communities that have fallen apart or eroded, you may think of activities that betrayed the community’s values and moral prescriptions, whether or not the values or moral prescriptions were clearly articulated. For example, the revelations of child abuse in the Catholic Church eroded respect for the church not only because children were abused but also because perpetrators were apparently protected and justice for the victims denied. This is opposed to the church’s stated values of serving all church members and honoring justice.

If your group does anything together or supports members in participating in any activity, it’s almost certain that the community advocates certain moral proscriptions. For example, even in a bicycling group there are proscriptions on how morally responsible bicyclists (us!) behave in contrast to others (them!). How restrictive the proscriptions are depends on the community. Many leaders do not recognize that their communities offer moral proscriptions. It sounds too restrictive. But even violent criminal gangs have moral proscriptions about behavior. These influence how members honor one another, their leaders, and others important to the community. A member who violates those proscriptions risks being expelled from the gang, and perhaps much worse. As a leader, you may never need to write out standards for community behavior (moral proscriptions). But a time may come when they need to be articulated. Don’t be afraid. Such standards are what define strong communities. As long as the proscriptions truly reflect the shared values of your community, members will be enthusiastic about them. Communities provide moral proscriptions consistent with their values.

Communities and Insider Understandings

One of the great pleasures of being part of a community is that we don’t have to explain ourselves. We want to feel seen and understood without explaining the parts that outsiders don’t get. We feel more comfortable and safer within the community because of this baseline understanding. In the outside world, it may be less clear that we and our values are understood and accepted. Part of our comfort comes with technical or “external” understanding. This is how insiders understand the external world. We don’t want to explain terms or recap history and the fundamentals of our field. We want to come together and share our values and skills.

Recently my friend Kari returned home to Oregon and gathered with friends who have a long history of playing jazz together. One musician came with a friend who was a musician but not a jazz musician, and who hadn’t brought an instrument. She didn’t share the jazz tradition, so she politely sat to the side as the group of six played. Kari told me that instead of playing for two to three hours, as they had in the past, they played for only thirty minutes, largely because they were uncomfortable playing with an outsider sitting idly by who didn’t appreciate jazz very much. While everyone had good intentions, inviting an outsider who had neither the technical knowledge nor the musical interest for this special time changed the space and eroded the intimacy of the community time.

Perhaps the more important part of insider understanding is the emotional or “internal” understanding. This is understanding about how it feels for insiders and the values that drive choices no matter how hard, easy, fun, painful, scary, or noble it looks to outsiders. For example, in Weight Watchers communities, there’s confidence that members understand and value the struggle required to maintain a healthy body weight. Firefighters understand both what experiences are dangerous and why they are so, and they share the emotional reality of living through them. They also understand the love of the job that comes from saving people in life-threatening situations. In communities where patients with similar diagnoses and challenges connect, they feel enormous relief that everyone in the room or conversation understands the fears, challenges, discomfort, and elation that comes with their own journey.

My favorite example comes from my retired firefighter friend, Melissa, who explained to me that her colleagues have a dark sense of humor that may come from regular exposure to mortal challenges. The humor is a kind of release for them. Even when the firefighters’ spouses are present, the conversation is not as comfortable and the language is not as free. She knows that with firefighters she can say things that would be jarring to outsiders yet respectful to crewmates who share her experience.

I’m hopeful that these past few pages have opened some insight into how and why the communities you already cherish stick together. You may have seen something new that means you can articulate something that has previously remained unsaid. This may be something your community already values or an understanding you share. In naming it, you may gain clarity on why you are together and understand who is looking for you so they can grow what you’ve started. Whatever you grow, it will stand on this originating core of identity.

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“The Art of Community is a powerful, practical, and modern articulation of, and advancement on, timeless wisdom. Emerging or veteran leaders who integrate these principles will build communities that are more resilient, passionate, and harmonious in the face of adversity and uncertainty. Flip to any page to find insight and inspiration.”
—Alan Price, Founding Director, Global Leadership Initiative, Harvard Business School, and author of Ready To Lead?

“A useful field guide to create durable and profound connections . . . An important undertaking, as isolation and loneliness are a root cause of the breakdowns all around us, including extreme violence.”
—Peter Block, author of Community and Flawless Consulting

"At last, here is an insightful guide to create the community you have envisioned for yourself and others."
—Richard Leider, best selling author of the Power of Purpose and Life Reimagined

“A brilliantly intentional, well-composed plan for engaging and developing communities. This book is both an inspiration and a field guide for those who wish to connect deeply and build the communities our world so desperately needs.”
—Thomas A. Kolditz, PhD, Brigadier General, US Army (ret.), and Director, Ann and John Doerr Institute for New Leaders

“This book is full of rich wisdom and simple tools to help make community real. Our mission statement includes the word ‘community,' but I never truly understood what it meant until reading this book. Too often we declare a community around affiliation without digging into the shared values and care for one another that make a real community.”
—Jason Jay, PhD, Director, Sustainability Initiative, MIT Sloan School of Management, and author of Beyond the Choir

“A deeply thoughtful and compelling book that shares many insights with clarity, accessible examples, and ideas for implementation. I learned a lot.”
—Lawrence Levy, former CFO. Pixar Animation Studios; cofounder, Juniper Foundation; and author of To Pixar and Beyond

“Charles Vogl's book is a lucid, ferociously intelligent, and readily accessible road map to building a more connected culture. Education about community and character has been subordinated in American education to myopic cognitive and commercial learning. The result everywhere around us is devastating, from unprecedented wealth disparities to rampant tribalism. This work points to a much-needed antidote.”
—Marty Krasney, Executive Director, Dalai Lama Fellows

“I've personally experienced the magic that Charles Vogl creates in powerful communities. People feel genuine belonging and connection. Now he has written down the essential principles so that others may experience this magic themselves. I cannot imagine a more important subject for a book in a society where so many of us hunger for connection and community.”
—Scott Sherman, Executive Director, Transformative Action Institute

The Art of Community is an outstanding guide to creating and fostering the meaningful communities all of us need. As technology that allows us to physically detach from one another accelerates, it has become more important than ever to understand what community and belonging mean. Strong, mature communities benefit both individuals and humanity as a whole.”
—Jonathan Knowles, Explorer in Residence, Autodesk, and host of the Autodesk IDEAS series

“If you are tasked with bringing families, neighborhoods, or organizations together, read this book first. In The Art of Community, author Charles Vogl re-invigorates a vision of community and the importance of social bonds to our well-being. In place of our convenient and transient associations, Vogl tells us how to establish relationships that are more meaningful and enduring.”
—Michael O'Malley, author or coauthor of Every Leader Is an Artist, The Wisdom of Bees, and Leading with Kindness

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